Edited By Jonathan Cohen. March 27th 2004, 10:45 AM ET
March 27, 2004_

Hayley Westenra: In Hailing Distance Of U.S. Debut


Nine months will have passed between the release of Hayley Westenra's album "Pure" in her native New Zealand and its April 6 North America bow. The extended buildup has allowed Decca Records to create a very broad campaign for the 16-year-old singer.

For the launch of "Pure" in the United States, Westenra and her family are moving to New York for at least six months, according to Marc Johnston, senior VP/GM for the Universal Classics Group, which includes Decca.

"Hayley is absolutely dedicated to the U.S. full-time," Johnston says. Media exposure around the release will come from an appearance by Hayley on "Good Morning America," coverage in teen magazines and heavy advertising buys on such high-profile shows as "Oprah," "Dr. Phil" and "Live With Regis and Kelly."

Decca also will turn to several tried-and-true methods of promoting a classical crossover artist.

Mike Lee, classical music buyer at Borders Books and Music, notes that Decca has supplied the store with free Westenra samplers to give away. "April is classical music month, and Hayley will be a centerpiece of our positioning," Lee says.

In addition, following in the footsteps of such megastars as Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban, Westenra is about to tape her first PBS special, a "Great Performances" program scheduled to air in fourth-quarter 2004.

"Her singing is so gorgeous," says David Horn, the program's producer. "It's reminiscent of the great boy-soprano sound of Anglican church choirs."

But while Decca will target its traditional crossover audience of adult women, the label is employing a new tactic: aggressively promoting Westenra to kids and teens. During April and May, the young singer will appear on a national Radio Disney music education tour for middle-school students.

Robin Jones, VP of programming for Radio Disney, admits that Westenra is a departure. "She doesn't typify the Radio Disney sound," Jones says, "but presenting her exposes kids to a new level of music. And since she's so young herself, kids can really relate to her."

Glenn Lajeski, Disney's executive VP of music creative and marketing, agrees. "Unlike with Charlotte Church, for example, there's a priority to expose Hayley to a younger audience," he says. To that end, Westenra's first Disney project is her appearance on the soundtrack for the direct-to-video "Mulan 2," slated for release in February 2005.

Another major and innovative aspect of Westenra's U.S. debut is Decca's effort to gain attention for her from the TV and film industries.

"We hired an independent consultant, Robin Kaye, who's been an amazing member of our team," Johnston notes. "She has showcased Hayley at most of the major studios. I believe that this is the first time anyone's done that systematically, and the response has been fantastic."

While singing is Westenra's main focus right now, Johnston adds that her L.A. showcases had a bonus result. "When she was out there, people were giving her scripts to read, and she had a few rather impromptu auditions. So some film and TV roles are currently in the works."

One exec who responded to Kaye's initiative was Greg Sill, music supervisor for the NBC drama "American Dreams." "Robin brought her to visit the set and perform for Jonathan Prince, the series' executive producer, and myself. We just flipped over the sound of her voice—it's so angelic," Sill says. Westenra has been booked to appear on one of next season's episodes of the show.

"We are also very aggressively pursuing marketing deals," Johnston says. The label has already entered into a partnership with Doritos: Between now and December, Westenra will be featured on 20 million bags of chips, appearing alongside the artist Raven and Nick Lachey, former 98º singer and "Newlyweds" star.

News item thanks to Dave Ludlow

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